quota impresses Syrian First Lady
June 20, 2008
Photo: V.V. Krishnan
NEW DELHI: If there is one
thing that Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad will carry back with her from India,
it is the Indian experience with women's reservation in panchayats and local
"I will take the quota
system in panchayats back home with me to encourage local level participation
of women in politics and governance," she said in an informal interaction
with journalists at the Indian Women's Press Corps here.
Though Ms. Assad is impressed
with the Indian system of quota for women at the grass roots level, she has
reservations about extending it to national politics.
Admitting that it is an issue
of debate in her country – which has the highest percentage of women in
Parliament at 13 per cent – the 33-year-old First Lady fears that quota at the
national level for women would make the women's movement complacent and result
in the loss of passion and drive to fight for women's empowerment.
"Syria is a pioneer in
women's empowerment in the Arab world, but it is no longer an exception. We got
franchise along with men in Syria. Our Vice-President is a woman. And, we have
women in the Army, in business… the bottomline is women are everywhere. The
challenge we face is that there are few women involved at the local level in
politics and governance."
Stating that secularism came
easily to her country – thanks to Judaism, Christianity and Islam being part of
Syria's heritage instead of being imported – Ms. Assad lamented the growing
incidence of sectarian violence in her country's neighbourhood. "Sectarian
violence is a disease that is contagious and difficult to reverse because it
attacks the mind."
The sectarian violence in the
Middle East, according to the British-born-and-bred-Syrian, had strengthened
her nation's conviction that this is a tendency which should be avoided.
"We have seen the worst of it in our neighbourhood."
As for the role of the
conservative religious leadership in her country and its polity and where it
fitted in the secular fabric, Ms. Assad's response was: "They are part
[of] the healthy debate in our country."
Asked about the percentage of
women who wear the `hijab,' she said: "I can't say. What is important is
not how women dress, but how we use our mind. `Hijab' and physical appearance
is not our preoccupation. What is important is that women who wear the `hijab'
are active in public life. For our women, it is a matter of choice."
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